Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sittingbourne Invicta 10k 2015

The Sittingbourne Invicta 10k had been selected as the second of my running club's Grand Prix races so with the lure of GP points I finally got around to entering it this year (2015).

The online registration process was handled by Runners World and I paid the £12 affiliated runner fee (unaffiliated runners would have paid £14). On-the-day entries were an extra £2 making it £14 and £16 respectively.

#teamslgr pre-run photo [photo: tony giles]

The race headquarters was at Westlands School, and upon arrival I was directed into the grounds where I found plenty of space to park. The race village was set up on the school playing fields - here there were various gazebos set up selling cakes, breakfast rolls etc..

Plus a local radio station (SFM) were broadcasting live from the race and provided plenty of chat and music while I chilled out on the grass.

number collection / chip collection marquees [photo: 7t]

Another couple of gazebos were in place to deal with the race number and timing chip collection. The number collection was in one gazebo and the chip collection next door in another.

I thought it a little strange because there was a risk that a runner could turn up, collect their number but not their timing chip. Fortunately I was prompted to go and collect mine.

course map [photo: 7t]

The rest of my running club started to arrive around this point and we found a nice spot to hang out and chat in the sun before starting our respective warm-ups.

Once warmed through, it was time to check out the toilet facilities which were inside the school - there was only a short queue and before I knew it I was back outside and stripping down to my club vest. I stored my excess bits and pieces in my car, but there was a bag drop area for anyone that required it.

during the early stages of the race [photo: brian page]

About ten minutes before the race start time, which had been set at 11am, I started to head towards the start area. It was pretty full but I managed to filter through to a spot quite near the front.

It was here that one of my team mates informed me that he didn't have a timing chip because he wasn't prompted to pick his up after collecting his race bib. So if there's any feedback for the organisers it would be to merge these two collection points to make the process easier for the runners in future (or maybe change to the timing chips that are embedded in the bib).

st peter and paul church, borden [photo: 7t]

Then at 11am sharp the horn was sounded and the race was underway. The race took place almost entirely on tarmac country lanes to the south-west of the centre of Sittingbourne.

The course, which was run anti-clockwise, undulated throughout but the general theme was that the first half featured more inclines and the second half brought you back down. With this knowledge to hand I decided to push fairly hard through the first half and hope that gravity would assist with getting me back to the finish during the second.

a typical stretch of the course [photo: 7t]

The first section was through residential streets and these quickly gave way to the country lanes where all I could see to each side were open crop fields.

Just after a mile into the race, the course passed through Borden where the lovely, grade 1 listed 'Saint Peter and Paul Parish Church' could be seen on the right - records say that it is at least 800 years old.

part of the 300 metre off-road section [photo: 7t]

It is worth noting that the roads remained open to traffic and there were a few cars around, with some drivers not particularly sympathetic to the runners.

The course continued to undulate (mostly gentle climbing) as it lead further south along the country lanes until it passed over the M2 motorway and then a marshal directed the runners through a tiny hole in a hedge for a 300 metre stretch on a slightly bumpy dirt path that runs along the edge of a crop field. The end of this section is roughly about half-way into the race.

around eight kilometres into the race [photo: brian page]

The course then turned to the north to head back across the M2 and back towards Sittingbourne - the water station was around this point. I had spent the entire run so far with an ever-changing selection of Sittingbourne Strider runners and this theme continued right until the end.

This is the still-undulating-but-generally-downhill half of the race. The funny thing is, that even though my GPS data confirms that this half was indeed generally downhill, it didn't feel like it during the race. All I can remember were more uphill sections and the occasional downhill.

finish line in sight [photo: tony giles]

Towards the end of the race the country lanes gave way to the residential streets which lead the runners back into the Westlands School, past the start line and up onto the grass playing fields for a final dash to the finish line, still with my Sittingbourne Striders race companions.

Once I had crossed the line, the timing chip was removed from my shoe and I was given a medal and a goody bag. As it was a fairly warm day my first thought was to rummage through it to look for the water; During the process I also found a banana, a peanut bar thingy and loads of paper things including a list of runners in this year's race - a nice touch, I thought.

some of teamslgr awaiting (and cheering) the rest of the team [photo: tony giles]

After a brief spot of recovering on the grass, I went and found a nice spot to cheer in the rest of the team, and as each runner finished they came over and joined in with the cheering. We'd all had a great time at the event and some of my team mates even headed home with new personal bests, as confirmed by the official results that were published on-line later the same afternoon.

mission accomplished [photo: brian page]

Looking through my GPS split times it looks like I ran the first 5k in just a shade over 21 minutes and the second half in about 19.50. For the record my official chip time was 40.56 giving me and age grading of 68.38% which translates into 69 points in the club GP competition. Overall it was another great morning out with #teamslgr and I can't wait until the next one. Lastly, I would just like to add a huge thanks to Tony Giles and Brian Page for the photos.

Dartford parkrun 41 - Grandad Slug (tuː ˈhʌn.dɹəd)

16 May 2015 saw the return of Dartford parkrun following a one week break in order for the set-up of the Trevithick Steam Festival to take place. After my run at Cassiobury parkrun event 11 that morning, I headed over to Central Park, in Dartford to check out the fair.

It was the third year on the trot that I had been there and it was just as good as it always is. If you are local and missed it, I would thoroughly recommend popping over next time it is on.

the parkrun200 banana

Back to 16 May and this event marked a personal landmark run for me, although it is not officially recognised as one. It was my double century, or in Roman Numerals, CC, or just simply known as my 200th parkrun.

I decided that it would be right to mark it in some way so I ran through a number of ideas of things I could do, but in the end settled on the plain and simple parkrun staple that is.... cake ...

just after the one kilometre mark [photo: richey]

... but not just any old cake. You see, I have a bit of a reputation as a prolific banana eater, so we (I say we, it was Dani) baked a couple of banana cakes the night before to share with the rest of the post-parkrun gang.

The idea that I scrapped at the last minute was to bring enough bananas for all of the runners. However, all was not lost as fellow core volunteer, Adam, spent some time creating a beautifully decorated 200th parkrun banana for me - that was pretty awesome of him (thanks, Adam).

mick jagger's leg [photo: dani]

I was also very pleased to be able to welcome some parkrunning friends who had planned their parkrun touring visits to coincide with this event. Firstly Graeme from Riddlesdown parkrun [my course description blog] (he now has a course best time identical to mine), we've run countless parkruns at Riddlesdown together as well as plenty of races, so it was really nice to have him over to try out our course.

Then there was James, Teresa and Lisa from Maidstone parkrun [my Maidstone parkrun blog] - James kindly looked after me when I visited his home venue in January 2014 - we've also run quite a few local races together. And of course there was Nicola, who was the most experienced parkrunner present on the day with 220 parkruns to her name. Her home venue is Roundshaw parkrun [I've run there twice, my blog posts are here]. We did quite a few volunteering stints together at Bushy Junior parkrun during 2013.

mick jagger selfie [photo: james]

After the run we all went over to see the Mick Jagger statue and James even grabbed a selfie of us all while we were there. All in all, it was a fantastic morning and the running part, while important, only felt like a tiny part of the day. Thank you for all coming over to visit Dartford parkrun.

Talking about the running, I had intended to run at around 4.12 per kilometre pace and finish in around 21 minutes. However, I started off with Tony and when we hit the 1km mark in 3.58, I decided that it made sense to just stick with that pace and aim to finish in just under 20 minutes, which I did.

me with graeme and terry [photo: dani]

Some statistics from my first 200 parkruns (mostly for my own information..)

200 official runs
207 weeks since my first parkrun (3 years, 11 months, and 19 days)
29 freedom runs
209 credited volunteer roles
84 different venues
17 inaugurals
10 buggy runs
5 first finishes
110 runs combined total for Riddlesdown [71] and Dartford [39] (55% of my total runs)
63 sub-20 runs
16 sub-19 runs
2 interviews on the parkrun show

And I'm happy to report that I have never forgotten my barcode.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Beckenham Team Relay 2015

With the warmer months and lighter evenings rapidly approaching, it was time to start looking for some midweek relay races to enter with my SLGR team mates. The first of the 2015 season that we liked the sound of was the Beckenham Team Relay Race, which is hosted by Beckenham Runners.

#teamslgr [photo: dani]

In the weeks leading up to the race we managed to gather enough runners to form five teams which was much better than we had managed the last time we tried to get some relay teams together. As expected, there were some changes in team line ups at the last minute, but thankfully it all went roughly to plan and there were no major problems.

Relay races come in lots of different shapes and forms, and this one was an undulating 3 x 2.6 mile race. Underfoot was tarmac, paving stones or gravel so road shoes were the way to go. I assigned myself a place in team SLGR 2 and secured the services of Richey and Adam by using the lure of vegan waggon wheels as a bribe. We decided to run the legs in order of expected pace with us getting progressively faster after each changeover. The three of us in SLGR 2 wore bibs displaying number 79, but Richey had an 'A' prefix, Adam 'B' and I had 'C' to indicate which legs we would be running.

i do love a chalk start line [photo: dani]

On paper, we were the fastest SLGR team present on the night which you might imagine would take the SLGR 1 moniker. However as the original idea to run this race came from my team mate Kat, I thought it only right to allocate the coveted number 1 to her team. The five teams were made up of 2 male teams, 2 female teams and 1 mixed team.

Race HQ was at the Beckenham Cricket Club and that's where we all met and registered our teams. The cost was £10.50 per team (£3.50 per person). Our five teams and supporters then headed over to the start-finish area which was within the grounds of Beckenham Place Park. It took about 10 minutes to walk over and our five first leg runners only just made it into the start funnel in time. Note: don't hang around in the race HQ taking team photos immediately before the race! (my fault, sorry)

the mass start (leg a) [photo: dani]

With the leg 'A' runners sent off around the course, it was time for the leg 'B' runners to warm up and then head towards the changeover area to await the return of their team mates. It was at this point that I realised exactly how many teams were in attendance. The race had reached its race licence limit of 100 teams and it was pretty packed in there!

Richey had soon completed his leg of the race and was now free to spend the rest of the evening cheering, which is actually one of the great things about relay races. Having only a few runners out on the course at a time means that there's always a great atmosphere and support for all the runners at the changeover area.

richey handing the virtual baton over to adam [photo: dani]

With Adam now out on the course I knew I better start getting properly warmed up for my leg and after a bit of running and some dynamic stretches I got myself into the changeover area, which was pretty packed with anxious looking runners awaiting their respective team mates.

Then, in the distance, I spotted Adam and moved into position to await his arrival. A quick tag and I was off. The course started at one of the high points of the course and first section was downhill along a private road which weaved through Beckenham Place Golf Course where I managed to gain two places for the team. At the end of the road the route left the park and went out onto the streets, where I caught and overtook another runner.

my turn to take the virtual baton [photo: dani]

The first incline started about 1 kilometre into the lap and went on for about 600 metres; at its steepest it reached a grade of 8%, during the ascent I managed to grab another two places. Once at the peak of the hill, the course turned to the left and the descent started.

This lead the runners back into the park where I overtook another runner as I ran along the slightly gravelly meandering path adjacent to the Ravensbourne River (this section also forms part of the Beckenham Trail 10k race which I ran in 2013). Once at the other side of the park, the runners venture out onto Beckenham Hill Road for a short 100 metre stretch along the pavement.

part of the last 700 incline through the park [photo: 7t]

Upon re-entering the park it was time for the second uphill slog. I spotted another runner in front of me and set my sights on catching him. This incline was around 700 metres in length and took the runners all the way to the finish line. With an average grade of 4%, it was not as steep as the first incline but, as it came right at the end, it felt just as hard.

I caught and overtook my opponent about half way up the hill, and then I became the prey! After working hard to take the position, the last thing I wanted to do was hand it back, so I put everything I had left into the last couple of hundred metres and even finished with a decent sprint, eventually crossing the finish line two seconds ahead of my rival to the excited cheers of my awaiting team mates and supporters.

the course hill profile [image: my strava gps data]

Before the race, I had looked at previous years' results and it was pretty clear that none of our teams would be anywhere near challenging for one of the top spots, but that really didn't matter because what we took away from the evening was a fantastic team experience on a lovely early summer's evening.

The official results were available early the next morning, which was pretty good going considering that the whole event was timed manually. I'm guessing someone had to sit up pretty late in order to get it all processed - great commitment and it was the icing on the cake of a very enjoyable and well organised event.

slgr 2 race complete [photo: clive penny]

Our teams' results were as follows;

SLGR 2 - Richey 18:25 / Adam 17:30 / Steven S 16:30 (total time: 52:25) (40th)
SLGR 3 - Terry 20:06 / Alex 20:45 / Steven B 18:29 (total time: 59:20) (72nd)
SLGR 5 - Renee 22:52 / Dawn 20:53 / Chris 19:56 (total time: 1.03:41) (81st)
SLGR 4 - Carla 24:46 / Michelle 21:55 / Caroline 20:00 (total time: 1.06:41) (90th)
SLGR 1 - Kat 28:39 / Carol 29:03 / Lynne 22:58 (total time: 1.20:40) (99th)

go #teamslgr (heart) [photo: dani]

We had a small but great team of supporters with us which was fantastic, so thank you to you all. A special thanks must go to Dani and Clive who, despite the light conditions being tricky, managed to get a really nice selection of photos between them, some of which I have used here. As always, I recorded my run using Strava so if you want to check out the course in more detail you can click to view my GPS data.


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Cassiobury parkrun

Cassiobury is a suburban residential area of Watford, Hertfordshire. It is nestled just to the west of Watford Town Centre and takes its name from the former Cassiobury Estate, which in turn took its name from the Manor of Cashio. The centrepiece of the 693 acre estate was originally a Tudor building built in 1546 for Sir Richard Morrison.

By the early 17th century it had become the ancestral seat of the Earls of Essex and was extensively remodelled by the 1st Earl into the grander, castle-esque Cassiobury House – a 56 room mansion which was lavishly decorated in the style of Windsor Castle and home to a substantial art collection. The Earl had hoped this would attract a visit from King Charles II, but in the end it never did. However King Edward VII and a young Winston Churchill did visit the estate in 1902.

a chromolitograph of cassiobury house c. 1880 [public domain]

The estate remained with the family until the early 20th century, but the upkeep of the estate was becoming increasingly expensive and in 1909 the owner, the 7th Earl of Essex, decided to sell off 184 acres of land, mostly to Watford Council for new housing and the creation of a public park.

Then in 1916, the Earl was knocked down and killed by a taxi which lead to a slow and protracted series of auctions which sold off most of the assets and then eventually, in 1927, the House was demolished to make way for more housing developments. Much of the salvaged materials were bought and shipped to the USA to create a house of the same name in Bedford, New York. Other materials were used locally to restore Monmouth House in Watford High Street.

welcome to cassiobury park [photo: 7t]

The location of the original house is outside the boundaries of the present-day park, between Temple Close and Parkside Drive which lie just just to the north. There are, however, two other buildings that survive the original estate; the stable block, which is now known as Cassiobury Court, it is currently used as a drug rehabilitation centre and a Dower House called 'Little Cassiobury' which is currently unoccupied and classified as 'at risk' by English Heritage – again these are just to the north of the park.

The current park covers 190 acres of land and is largely open mown grass areas with scatterings of trees. The land slopes generally downhill from east to west into the valley of the River Gade where the terrain becomes a little more wooded and after crossing the river you'll find Cassiobury Park Nature Reserve. The Grand Union Canal forms the western border of the park. The former country estate grounds became home to Cassiobury parkrun on 28 February 2015 and as of May 2015 is attracting numbers around the 150 mark. So with Dartford parkrun cancelled for the Trevithick Day Steam and Classic Car Fair, I persuaded Dartford parkrun event director Richey and fellow core volunteer Adam to accompany me on a rare parkrun touring opportunity.

the croquet green [photo: 7t]

The official travel advice is to arrive on foot, by bike or public transport where possible and for anyone that does drive, parking is possible on many of the side streets around the venue but that it is limited. These streets have parking restrictions but the signs I checked did not apply on Saturdays so you should be able to park up fairly easily first thing on a Saturday morning. One thing that isn't mentioned on the official Cassiobury parkrun webpage is that Cassiobury Park actually has its own car park which, I understand, is completely free of charge to use. It is located in the south-west corner of the park, which is around a mile away from the start area. For the record, we parked on Shepherds Road.

For those taking public transport, Watford underground station is located just to the south of the park. However, this station is due to close in 2016 with the line being diverted to Watford Junction. When this takes effect the closest tube station will be Cassiobridge which will be about half-a-mile further south of the current station. Watford Junction station is the closest you'll get by mainline and overground train services - this station is around 2km from the park. The park is also served by buses 336 and 352.

the volunteers getting ready for action [photo: 7t]

Important info - There are some toilets inside the Cha Café, which is also the venue for the post-run coffee (other beverages are available) but these are very unlikely to be open before the run starts. On the plan of the park there is another set of toilets listed - however they are right over on the western side of the park and when I visited I didn't venture over there so cannot confirm whether they were open pre-run or not.

The run itself starts at the most easterly point of the park, adjacent to Rickmansworth Road (A412) but the official meeting point is at the finish area next to the croquet green (next to The Cha Café). This makes sense because it's the best place to leave any belongings (the organisers provide a tarpaulin bag drop area here which was popular), it is also a very good spot for any cyclists to lock up their bikes - I spotted two bicycle racks plus plenty of fencing around the café and the croquet green that could be used to secure a bike in this area. (please note: on the current official course map the finish marker is not in the correct location)

at the start and waiting to be briefed [photo: 7t]

The 5k parkrun course is made up of just over a two-and-a-half laps around the eastern and central parts of the park, and come rain or shine road shoes are the way to go as the entire course is run on the tarmac paths that criss-cross the park, which means it's also great for buggy runners. The opening section of the run sees the runners heading west for 800 metres along the perfectly straight, tree-lined Central Avenue that, true to its name, runs right through the centre of the park. As mentioned above there is an ever-so-slight-but-not-terribly-noticeable downward slope as you progress from east to west along this path.

At the western tip of the course there is a sharp left-hand corner and the exact running line is marked out with cones. I estimate that it's around 135 degrees so is not far off being a complete u-turn. The initial section after the turn rises ever-so-slightly before levelling out where the course passes the tennis courts, the Cha Café, a small playground, the croquet green and the finish area. It's also worth keeping an eye out for the carved owl tree which runners pass around this point. This particular path is shared use (pedestrians / cyclists) and there is a dividing line to separate the two-wheeled from the rest.

central avenue [photo: 7t]

This path takes the runners back to the Rickmansworth Road end of the park where there is another extremely tight left-hand turn lined with cones - I'd say this one is even tighter than the first. With the corner safely negotiated the runners are back on Central Avenue where they can now complete their second full lap of the course.

When the two full laps are complete, the runners only have just over half-a-lap to go before swinging into the finish funnel which is just off to the right-hand-side of the path next to the croquet green - it's quite a tight turn to get into it and requires a slight easing of pace beforehand in order to be able to turn into it. If I was to make one suggestion, it would be to find a way to make the angle a little less harsh in order to let the runners have a more direct funnel entry.

richey heading towards the finish line with adam cheering him in [photo: 7t]

Barcode scanning takes place right next to the finish line and runners are then well-placed to offer encouragement to any participants that have not yet finished running. The Cha Café should be open by the time the run is over - we popped in and had a cup of tea but sadly couldn't stay long enough to sample anything further as we had to head back over to Dartford.

A feature that we sadly didn't have time to properly investigate is the 10.25 inch gauge miniature railway that resides over on the west side of the park. It opens at 12 noon on Saturdays and visitors are treated to a meandering journey along half-a-kilometre of tracks. There was an incident recently (April 2015) where a faulty spring caused a carriage to derail. This in turn lead to the following carriages crashing into it and overturning - initially trapping some children. Thankfully nobody was seriously hurt.

after five kilometres this is a welcome sight [photo: 7t]

Staying with the theme of features in the western side of the park, there is also a large play area for kids which was rebuilt in 2009 and alongside this are three paddling pools. Continue in a westerly direction and you'll reach the River Gade where you can cross the rustic bridge (which is adorned with animal carvings) and shortly after you'll reach the Grand Union Canal which forms the westerly border of the park.

Fans of Star Wars may want to venture a little further west as on the other side of the canal lies a golf course, and beyond that is Whippendell Wood - an ancient woodland. The wood was part of the original Cassiobury Estate and was used as a filming location for scenes on Naboo in the Phantom Menace - if you're going to try to find the exact spots you might find this website handy.

dartford parkrun trio on tour [photo: richey estcourt('s phone)]

So, it was a great morning of parkrunning in a very pleasant park. I feel like I should clarify that although I've mentioned a slight change of elevation it is barely noticeable and this course can only be described as flat and fast. The results were processed swiftly and I had received my result text message before I arrived back home. If you would like to see the course in more detail you can view my GPS data on Strava.

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